An Audience of One
“…for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:41)
All of us must decide whom we will choose to please in life. It has been said that we all play for an audience. The difference is in whom we choose as our audience. We must ask ourselves, “For whose applause am I living?” There is great pressure coming at us from all sides to measure up, and to satisfy the expectations of the people who believe we are called to no higher purpose than to please them.
This tendency has corrupted good leadership by turning leaders into followers who gauge their actions by the temperament of the people. This is leadership by the polls, as it were. To this, Winston Churchill remarked, “I hear it said that leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.”
The desire to please and be accepted is a tendency with which we all have to recon. The impulse to please is closely connected to a fear of being unpopular, which to many is, unfortunately, the same as the fear of failing. True leadership, on the other hand, recognizes that the right thing is often unpopular at the time, and it does not pander to the whims and preferences of people but addresses the need at the moment by recognizing its responsibility to a higher authority than the momentary pleasure of a given constituency.
For those of us who are believers, our audience is an audience of One. That audience is God and God alone. When we love the praise of men more than the praise which ultimately comes from God, our north star becomes uncertain and inconstant, never giving us clear direction and fostering a weakness of character that is undesirable in any leader, and when we are talking about leadership by influence, every follower of Christ is a leader. A pastor of a large church commented, “I’m haunted when I look into the eyes of my congregation and realize they are always only two weeks away from leaving for another church.” While this may seem to expose a fear of men over a fear of disobeying God, we must first acknowledge that what this leader said is true. Spiritual leadership often feels the pressure to cater to the changing whims of a sight and sound generation whose choice of church is more often based on who can best keep their attention rather than on who can best help them to grow.
While leadership must invariably understand where their people are, that is NOT to say that they are to pander to where they feel inclined to go. Leaders must both show the destination and explain how one is to get there, while at the same time leading by example. It is not for the faint of heart, and no true leader will do credit to his office that does not die a thousand deaths to the carnal impulse to simply please.
In all our lives we must choose what our guiding influence for life will be. We must decide to either choose to please men or God. We cannot always choose both, but it is certain we can only do service to both by choosing to serve the purposes of God. Even the best ideals of men are not sufficient source material from which to draw our direction for life. We can learn from others and gain wisdom from the examples of what others have done to succeed in their life’s purpose, but we must each hear personally from God to know His particular direction for our lives.
The Bible says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25). I have found in my own tenure as a leader that many who seemed to have the strongest opinions in trying to shape the direction I was to take as a pastor were often those who did not even stay around long enough to finish the journey with us. Ultimately, our direction proved inconsequential to them, but the rest of us had to live with the choice we made to either follow God or the loudest voice in the room. Likewise, in your life, the only safe course is to trust to what you know God is leading you to do and to go where He is telling you to go.
I don’t necessarily believe we are courageous by nature, but leadership takes great courage. In the first chapter of the book of Joshua, God tells the new leader of His people three times to be “strong and courageous,” and in one of those instances He says to “be very strong and courageous.” While we may love those around us, and want to please them, we must live and lead with blinders on, choosing only to play for the applause of the One who called us to follow Him rather than men; to follow the cloud rather than the crowd, and to live for the eternal reward of obedience rather than the short-lived praises of men.